October 4, 2012

Over the past several years there has been a proliferation of books that begin with the title The Gospel According to. . ., featuring some successful phenomenon in pop culture. Whatever the current fad, or long-standing icon, the author seeks to evaluate the subtle messages of the storyline, articulating exactly what is “good news” according to the latest craze. Often these books are written by religious authors, and the messages of pop culture are evaluated against the messages of faith. Gospel books have been written according to Dr. Suess, the Simpsons, Peanuts, the Beatles, Jazz, Disney, Harry Potter, Twilight, Lost, Coco Chanel, and countless others.

Perhaps it’s the philosopher in me, or the theologian, but what I love about these books is their bold affirmation that however you are entertaining yourselves, you are also taking in a particular set of values, ideas about what is good and answers to some of life’s more profound questions, including what constitutes salvation. Whether the goal of the story is to become bitten by a vampire, to find your way off a mysterious island, to destroy the evil Lord Voldemort, to be saved by a prince or to be reminded that All You Need is Love, our favorite entertainers are shaping, confirming, or subtly challenging our ideas about God, life and what is good. These Gospel According to. . . books make plain what we are being taught by our favorite stories, whether we recognize it or not. They then go on to reflect on whether what we have learned meshes with the Biblical truths we claim on Sunday mornings, and in what ways each message can perhaps illuminate or correct our understanding of the other. Sometimes a song is just a song, and a story just a story. But if one of the goals of Christian formation is to continue to be formed in our faith, it begs the question of what other ways we are continually being formed – and how our faith is continually being shaped in ways we may not always recognize. Often the stories that stand the test of time do so because they have something important to teach, and if we have been listening in addition to being entertained, our faith has been strengthened, or challenged, in the process. The next time you go to the movies, pick up a good book, or settle in to your favorite TV show, in addition to enjoying the entertainment, I encourage you to reflect on the good and not so good news of the stories you are enjoying. Dr. Suess and the Simpsons have helped me teach many a Sunday School class on finding God in just such unexpected places!